John Sentamu calls for ‘more equitable, more caring world’ and questions effects of government’s welfare reforms
The archbishop of York has attacked the “new and terrible” blight of food poverty and increasing malnutrition in Britain, questioned the effects of the government’s welfare reforms and called for a renewal of the postwar spirit that hungered for “a more equitable, more caring world”.
In a long and often angry address to the Church of England general synod on Tuesday, John Sentamu said static salaries and rising prices had left nine million people living below the breadline at a time when the chief executives of the UK’s 100 biggest companies were earning on average £4.3m – 160 times the average national wage.
“We are an advanced economy, a first-world country, and we have been one for longer than most,” said the archbishop. “But we suffer from blight – increasing poverty in a land of plenty.”
Sentamu, who chairs the Living Wage Commission, said politicians needed to stop referring to “hard-working” families and recognise that they were instead “hard-pressed” families struggling to survive despite their best efforts.
“Once upon a time you couldn’t really be living in poverty if you had a regular income,” he said. “You could find yourself on a low income, yes. But that is not longer so. You can be in work and still live in poverty.”
Reports of malnutrition and food poverty in Yorkshire “disgrace us all, leaving a dark stain on our consciences”, he said. “How can it be that last year more than 27,000 people were diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition in Leeds – not Lesotho, not Liberia, not Lusaka but Leeds?”
The effects of the government’s welfare reforms, Sentamu said, were “beginning to bite – with reductions in housing benefit for so-called under-occupation of social housing, the cap on benefits for workless householders and single parents, and the gradual replacement of the disability living allowance with a personal independence payment”.
He questioned whether the bedroom tax made economic sense, as those leaving accommodation to avoid the under-occupancy charge were being rehoused in private lodgings at a greater cost. He expressed incredulity that the statutory minimum wage had been raised by just 12p last month.